Virginia Democratic Party chairman Joseph T. Fitzpatrick took the Senate floor yesterday, his voice shaking with anger, to cancel White House aide Midge Costanza's invitation to address the party's annual fund-raising dinner Saturday night because she had "found fault" with two state legislators.
Costanza said a telegram "disinviting" her had been read to her over the phone yesterday afternoon. But then Pat Jennings, a Democratic National Committee member who originally invited her, drove to the White House and "said I should not consider myself disinvited," Costanza said. Jennings will talk to the Democrats tomorrow "after the emotion has died down" to persuade them to keep her as their speaker, Costanza said.
Earlier in Richmond, Fitzpatrick a state senator from Norfolk, had cited an article in yesterday's Roanoke Times as his evidence that Costanza had faulted House Democratic Majority Leader A. L. Philpott and Democratic Caucus chairman Hardaway Marks because they had not voted for the Equal Rights Amendment. "I take exception to this type of language from a person who's supposed to come in and help us," Fitzpatrick said.
The Senate's five Republicans sat smiling as the Democrats brought an internal party fuss to the Senate floor in an unprecedented parade of indignation. His speech defending the honor of Philpott and Marks was followed with similar tributes from Senate Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault and Democratic Caucus chairman Wil lard Moody, as well as a few others. In all, it took up 20 minutes of the Senate session.
Costanza said she will not retract her statements made in the Roanoke paper "on an issue I feel is close to me," meaning ERA. But she added, "If they decide they don't want me to come, of course I will not come."
She said she was disappointed that Fitzpatrick had not checked the accuracy of the news article, a copy of which was placed on each senator's desk, with her before getting upset about it. She did not deny the accuracy of the quotes attributed to her, but said the article inaccurately only about the ERA and that she had implied she was planning to speak said she was disappointed with Virginia Democrats because of the failure of the ERA in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Costanza would have been the first woman to speak at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, and she said she rearranged her schedule in order to do it. She said this would have been her first Jefferson-Jackson Day speech and "I don't do all that just to go down there and punch somebody in the nose," she said.
Philpott told reporters he would go to the reception before the dinner but not the dinner if she was there. "I have no intention of going there to listen to that woman," he said. And Sen. William Fears (D-Accomac) said on the floor that "I am going to be small-minded, as I usually am, and say I have no intention of attending this function until the invitation to this lady is removed." What's more, Fears said, "I hope President Carter has the good sense to fire her."
"The ultra liberals are killing our party," Fears said. Then he referred to the ERA supporters strategy of trying to defeat anti-ERA legislators, a practice of a single-issue voting that Brault also decried. "One of these ladies or persons or women or whatever you call them tried to run against me last time," he said. "Fortunately the voters of my district had better sense."
The article in which Costanza was quoted was headlined "Carter Aide Won't Forget ERA in Virginia Speech," and went on to quote Costanza saying of Philpott and Marks that "they ought to be ashamed of themselves for falling for the propaganda" of ERA opponents. Costanza did not mention Philpott or Marks until she was asked by the reporter, according to her supporters.
Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, the only Democrat to survive last fall's statewide elections, is set to fill in for Costanza. Robb, ironically, was one of the persons who invited her, Costanza said.